• Randy McGravey

Side Hustles for Full Time Musicians

I think it's no secret that today's musicians need to have multiple streams of income. Since it is hard to earn a living with just one income stream, having multiple skills is essential. Luckily musicians are creative right? I've compiled a list of side hustles that have helped me over the years, and can most likely help you too.


Performing Live - This goes without saying, but most musicians play concerts. You can play events and venues such as:

  • Restaurants/Bars

  • Country clubs

  • Weddings

  • Festivals

  • Subways/Parks (Busking)

  • Breweries/Wineries

  • Schools

  • Pit Orchestras (Musicals)

  • Major Venues (Touring)

  • Corporate Events

  • Theme Parks

  • Private Parties

  • Parades

  • Churches

Getting into different venues is mostly a matter of reaching out and offering your services. If you play a venue and they enjoy it/you bring a decent crowd, they will most likely have you back. Agencies are also a great way to get gigs, especially weddings, corporate events, theme parks, etc. There are also websites where you can sign up and offer your services and clients will reach out to you. Some of these websites include GigSalad and The Bash.


Studio Sessions/Recording - Being a "hired gun" for someone else's recording is a fun way to make some extra cash. To succeed in this field, it is good to be able to play many different styles and have lots of options for sounds (ex. guitar amps, pedals, acoustic guitars, etc.). The more styles you can play fluently, the better your chances are of getting more work. It is also very beneficial to have your own studio setup (so you can record remotely for anyone in the world).


For these kinds of gigs, I mostly advertise online. They are honestly few and far between for me, but I know others who get over a dozen recording gigs a year. Websites like Fiverr and AirGigs seem to be pretty popular for this type of work.


Music Licensing - Writing music for TV, film, YouTubers, advertising and radio is a great way to make extra cash. Having a home studio and strong work ethic are essential. To get started in this field:

  • Record music that you think will be able to sell (listen to TV shows, commercials, etc.)

  • Submit your tracks to online music libraries (or directly to music supervisors if you feel very confident)

  • Wait and see which kinds of music sell and which libraries work for you. When you start seeing success, feed those libraries and write more music of the same style that was successful.

Music licensing is a long game, but you can see some decent money after a couple of short years. Some good places to start are Pond5 and Audiojungle.


Voice Over - If you're like me, you have a home studio, microphones, recording software, plugins, etc. Why not try your hand at some voice over work? You've already invested in the equipment. VO can be a great tool to use hand-in-hand with music licensing. You will be a one-stop shop for someone looking to have commercial audio. It does take practice, but it can be very lucrative.


Teaching Lessons - Assuming you're fluent in at least one instrument (or voice), you can teach lessons to others. This might not sound like the most fun avenue to some, but it is one of the most consistent revenue streams you can have as a musician. In my experience, the best-paying teaching jobs are with school systems. Schools have little overhead, so they pay almost all of the earnings from lessons to the teachers. Newer music schools often struggle in their first few years, whereas established schools tend to be more reliable.


Write Books/Lesson Materials - If you already teach lessons for your instrument, why not write a book that your students can use? This way you can teach the way you want to teach without relying on other books that you may or may not agree fully with. Publishing books and eBooks on Amazon KDP is easy. There are other sites as well for self-publishing, KDP is just my personal preference.


Sell Sheet Music Online - Do you have your own arrangement of "Jingle Bells" for solo piano? Why not write it out and sell it on a site like Sheet Music Plus? You can sell sheet music for original music or covers (as long as there is something unique about it). If you've released a book with songs in it, you could even sell the same songs individually on one of these websites.


YouTube/Video Lessons - The YouTube era has been good to many a musician. Not only can you earn money from your YouTube videos, but you can acquire personal students for virtual lessons. There are also other websites like Udemy where you can sell pre-recorded video courses. You'll want to invest in some decent video cameras if you plan on getting serious in this field.


You can also upload your live performance videos and music videos to YouTube and monetize them. Another popular type of video is backing tracks. You can record tracks of different styles for students to practice soloing over.


Join a Performing Rights Organization - A performing rights organization (PRO) is a society that musicians can join and earn royalties for their music. You can earn royalties when your music is played live, played on the radio, TV, sporting events, etc. You can even play your local bar and claim the performance with your PRO and earn a few extra bucks. The 2 main PROs in the US are BMI and ASCAP. Joining a PRO is essential for music licensing, and is highly preferred for anyone who performs live, or writes their own music.


Book Other Musicians/Bands - A lot of venues have one person who handles the booking. Sometimes it's an owner or manager, other times it is a musician who has a personal connection with the venue. If you know musicians in the area, you can hop on as the exclusive booking agent for a venue (or venues) and take a small cut of each performance (usually 10-15%). You can also book yourself this way.


Fill in For Other Bands - Offer your services to bands in need of a fill-in. Full-time musicians are usually busy and can't play every show that is offered to them. If you know other musicians similar to you, offer yourself as someone who can fill in for them in a pinch. This works both ways too. If you are already booked somewhere, but get an offer for a higher paying gig, offer the lower paying gig to your fellow musician. Relationships go a long way in this field (and every field, and in life).


Learn Niche Instruments - The more instruments you can play, the more opportunities you will have. Sure, guitarists are a dime a dozen, but how many dulcimer/lute/banjo/lap steel/mandolin players do you know? The obvious investment needed is to buy these instruments, but if you can play one stringed instrument, you can easily learn another. You can become the go-to person for one of these instruments, simply because you will be the only one around. Often times you can command a higher recording fee for niche instruments too, and the material will probably be very easy to play!


Provide Live Sound/Lighting - If you already have your own PA system and don't have a gig, why not offer to run another band's live sound? Not every band has their own system or wants to bring it for every gig. By doing live sound for others, you can usually earn an equal amount to the band members (or more). It is also great experience and you can learn a lot about how your own band sounds with your equipment.


Composing/Songwriting - If you have a home studio, you can write, record and sell songs. Lots of pop songs are not written by the artist. In fact, you'd be surprised to find out that some popular songs are written by freelancers. Advertise online (are you seeing a pattern here?) and throw your original songs on a website like Soundcloud. Just know that in the songwriting field you might need to sell the rights to the song (work for hire).


Record Other Musicians - Use your home studio to record fellow/aspiring musicians. Experienced students often want to try their hand at recording a song they wrote, or their version of their favorite song. I've even come across adults who are new to singing that want to take a crack at recording in a studio. Granted, really serious musicians will probably want a fully equipped studio, but for amateurs and students, a decent home studio should do just fine.


 

Being a full-time musician requires drive, talent, passion, and a hint of insanity. With a strong work ethic and a variety of niches, you can make it happen. If you're looking for a "safe" career, then maybe this is not the right field for you. If you can't imagine doing anything else in life, then maybe this IS the career for you!


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